When the quality and efficacy of a solution is not good enough yet, customers pay premium prices. This provides the margins for enterprises to upgrade what they offer, to improve their workflow and to eliminate inefficiencies. These improvements are what Clayton Christensen calls "sustaining innovations". The enterprises can sell up-market to more demanding customers who believe "you get more when you pay more". The prices paid by consumers may soar out of sight, as they have for college diplomas and hospitalizations. The market bears the rise in prices because the quality is not good enough yet to be offered routinely, systemically and consistently. The consumers have no other choices in this captive market but to pay more or go without. This phase is a "sellers market" where the provider names the price and terms. The problem comes to the solution. The customers endure the hardship of getting an appointment, schedule, enrollment or visitation -- at the convenience of the provider.
When the delivery of quality and efficacy becomes common knowledge, all this turns around. The customers start to find the same or better quality for less. When they pay more, they pay too much and don't get their money's worth. The enterprises or new entrants sell down-market to cost and value-conscious customers. The narrowing margins, increasing overhead and increasing stagnation of incumbent providers, create opportunities for start-ups to invade the space. The new entrants move the goal posts and sell down-market. They create bargains for savvy customers to find -- that means it pays to shop around and compare wisely. The over-served, under-served and non-consumers suddenly have options created by these "disruptive innovations". Now it's a "buyer's market" that competes for customers with added convenience, improved access, special privileges, and bundled offers. The solution gets brought to those with the problem. The providers deliver their innovations at the convenience of the consumers.
Higher ed has been able to maintain their "sellers market" where "those with the problem come to the solution" -- by perpetuating educational quality that is not good enough yet. They promote the prestige, ranking and elite attributes of their diplomas they can deliver instead of authentic quality and efficacy that exceeds their capabilities. It's time to move the goal posts.